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White House Evidence Scant on Trump‘s China Meddling Charge

Paid newspaper ads, free speech stifling part of ’covert’ effort, official says

Voters arrive to cast their ballots at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas on Election Day in November 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Voters arrive to cast their ballots at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas on Election Day in November 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump is accusing China of meddling in the U.S. midterm elections, but when pressed for evidence, a senior White House official provided scant examples of a Russia-style disinformation warfare campaign.

During a speech at a United Nations Security Council meeting Wednesday morning, Trump claimed Beijing has been trying to interfere in November’s midterm elections “against my administration.”

“They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade,” he said during remarks at a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York. “We are winning on trade — we are winning on every level.

“We don’t want them to meddle or interfere in our upcoming elections,” Trump said.

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He did not specify just what U.S. officials have detected, nor did Trump or the senior official on an afternoon call with reporters say whether what China allegedly has been doing is on par with what the U.S. intelligence community has described as a major election interference operation conducted by Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 U.S. election cycle.

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The accusation comes amid ongoing — and stalled — U.S.-China trade talks. Another senior White House official on Friday admitted Beijing has yet to alter its “unfair” trade tactics despite repeated Trump administration pleas.

China has targeted retaliatory tariffs to hit hard in states and districts that went for Trump in the 2016 presidential race, but U.S. officials had not previously warned of any major Chinese-led 2018 meddling campaign.

The tariffs were meant to “hurt farmers and workers in states that voted for the president because he stood up to” China’s trade tactics, the senior official said.

On the call, the senior official did note the retaliatory tariffs are part of a “covert” set of coordinated actions by Chinese entities. Also on the list: newspaper ads paid for by Chinese entities that are overwhelmingly pro-China — and sometimes critical of the United States.

Minutes before the call started, Trump tweeted that China, via the paid newspaper insert China Watch, is placing “propaganda ads in the Des Moines Register and other papers, made to look like news.”

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The insert is a product of the Worldwatch Institute and Beijing-based Global Environmental Institute. The Washington Post and other papers, including Roll Call, have, after being paid, included the section in its issues for years. It includes a notation “Advertising Supplement” atop its front page.

The official added that Beijing routinely “punishes” businessmen, think tanks, journalists and political candidates based on whether they “criticize or support [Chinese government] policies.” The official also said part of the alleged meddling campaign includes stifling “free speech on U.S. college campuses,” adding government officials there have a “chilling effect” on Chinese English-language newspapers.

At the same UN Security Council meeting, a senior Chinese official denied Trump’s charges. He said his country does not attempt to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries.

Vice President Mike Pence will provide more information at an upcoming speech at the Hudson Institute.

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